October 3, A.C. 212
Heero crept through the cool darkness of Relena's bedroom, careful not to wake her as she slept. He went back over to the side of the bed she was still curled up on, right where he'd left her. He had just spoken to Une, and then Duo and, finally, Trowa. His mission was accepted, his flight was confirmed, and everything else was in place.
It was time to go.
Relena appeared to be in a deep, languid sleep, with both of her hands under her pillow, clutching it tightly beneath her head. She always slept heavily after a night of, well, heavy drinking - they had polished off two bottles of wine together - and, of course, every else that followed. Heero couldn't help but smirk; he couldn't help but be pleased with how the night had turned out. Especially since he hadn't planned it. Lately, anytime he and Relena fell in bed together, it was a happy accident, at least in his mind.
It had only been about six months since their last encounter; they had gone longer without sex before. But he knew, and he was sure she did, too, no matter how many times they parted ways, it was only a matter of time before they both gave into temptation once more. And it was never just once more, either.
How easy, how stupidly easy, it was to fall back into one another's orbits. Heero wondered if there was actually any possibility of escape, or if he was just forever trapped in Relena's gravity.
She was still naked, as he had been when they fell asleep. Even in the darkness, Heero could make out her form in the soft glow of streetlights that streamed through her blinds. There was no moonlight on the colonies, a fact that always made Heero miss Earth. But still, Relena looked beautiful in the artificial light that illuminated her, outlining the curves of the figure he'd long had memorized, weaving strands of silver through her blond hair. It was difficult to look away as her chest rose and fell along with her soft, steady breathing. Heero allowed himself a moment, just a moment, to watch her sleep before reaching for her duvet and gently pulling it up to her chin. He knew if he kissed her goodbye, the motion would wake her; so instead of her lips, he feathered a light kiss to her brow.
As he left her apartment, triple-checking that the security settings he'd implemented were exactly as he'd left them, her words from earlier in the night came floating back to him.
The words that had prompted their encounter.
"If you had asked me, I would have said yes."
"What else is there to say? I'm going to bed…"
"If I had asked you what?"
"To marry you."
"Because I love you. I always have. That hasn't changed."
The words wouldn't leave his mind as he exited the apartment complex garage in his Preventers-issued SUV, en route to the closest spaceport.
"I love you… That hasn't changed."
Heero felt a buzz crawl down his back each time he imagined those pink lips of hers parting, saying one world-upending thing after the next.
"If you had asked me, I would have said yes."
Why?! His mind screamed at him. He gripped the steering wheel as he drove.
He felt like an utter fool.
How was someone like him supposed to give someone like her what she wanted?
"Relena… You know I've dedicated my life to protecting you. It's the only thing I can give you. But I want you to be happy."
"Then make me happy."
Was it really that simple, though?
Heero let out a low sigh as he drove. He did know how to make her happy; at least, according to what she'd told him she wanted. But they had had this conversation in the past, and it had always ended badly. Not like this time… which was at least partially due to all the alcohol. And sex.
Did that mean he'd technically agreed? Would she be expecting a ring next? He frowned to himself, not even knowing where to begin. But they were in their thirties now, and Heero realized he couldn't avoid the conversation forever. As long as they were together, it would keep coming up, and the longer he delayed, the more anxious Relena would become.
Until she would drop him again, inevitably, and Heero would regret his stupidity and grouse over having to see her trying to move on with someone new.
The pressure was building inside of him, but he had the sense that this time, it was now or never.
Relena deserved the best. He wasn't sure that was him; and, yet, she wanted him. She had made that abundantly clear.
And he couldn't lose her. Not again.
Just before Heero reached the spaceport, he placed one more call.
"Trowa," he said when his friend and fellow Preventer picked up on the other end. "I need you to do me a favor while I'm gone…"
January 1, A.C. 213 (Present day)
ESUN hospital, L3 Colony
Heero's dreams were a troubled place. His subconscious tumbled in and out of battles both real and imagined. Times he'd survived death; times he almost didn't. Hefting a semi-automatic with a broken arm, wincing every time his finger squeezed the trigger as he shot his way out of an OZ base; staggering to his feet after his body had slammed into jagged rocks, tearing his clothes, his skin, bones shattering as he made his rough descent from the window of a high rise; the force of a blast, propelling him out of his mobile suit, slamming him onto the hard, unforgiving ground, feeling something forever break inside of him as blood pooled around his head; pain searing his entire body like a shockwave before, at last, everything in and around him went completely still.
And, then, her voice, stretching across time and space, the light and the sound of it, like a beacon, guiding him back each and every time.
He bolted upright, chest heaving, his eyes searching the room wildly.
Pale yellow fluorescent lights buzzed above him in the all-white, unremarkable space. He remembered now.
His chest was hurting again - throbbing - and he felt the urge to vomit. He reached for nearby pan, but instead of retching, launched into a coughing fit that resulted in him spitting out a startling amount of thick mucus, along with clumps of blood.
What's wrong with me? He thought the answer would be obvious by now, but Heero had had far too many injuries over the years to bother keeping track. He was sure the beatings he'd endured during his recent capture hadn't helped…
But did Zero have anything to do with it? That was one question no doctor would be able to answer.
Heero wondered idly where Relena was, and how long he'd been out, when someone rapped on the door.
Relena climbed the final set of stairs behind Trowa, pausing when they came to a steel doorway marked with a red exit sign. She had lost count of how many steps they had gone up, and had stopped a few times to protest, but Trowa insisted they press on to the roof; the stairwell wouldn't afford them enough privacy.
Obviously whatever Trowa was planning to say was something he didn't want to risk having anyone overhear. The thought only made Relena more and more nervous. She was already starting to regret following him as they made their way through the exit door and onto the rooftop.
Relena could see the curve of the colony above them as Trowa ambled over to the roof's ledge, which was only a little higher than his ankles. He craned forward and glanced down briefly before turning back to look at Relena. The vacant sadness in his eyes pierced her heart.
Oh, dear… Suddenly, she didn't like the look of him, standing so close to the edge. Trowa's not depressed, is he?
Cautiously, she approached him, stopping just a few feet before him, gathering up all her courage.
She knew what he was about to say. And what she would have to say in return. She only hoped they could move on from there, with minimal drama. And then she could get back to Heero…
Relena's heart leapt into her throat when, suddenly, Trowa stepped up onto the ledge.
"Trowa!" she shrieked.
"Yes?" He turned back around and looked blankly at her.
"What are you doing?" she hissed, taking several harried steps forward. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
Trowa's one visible eye widened as he stared back at her. Then a smile broke over his face, and he laughed.
"Relena," he chuckled. "Have you forgotten about my other vocation?" He reached into his jacket pocket and flicked something into the air, but Relena couldn't make out what it was. Then, to her horror, he sprang into action, turning a somersault and disappearing over the ledge.
Relena raced to the side of the building, falling to her knees at the ledge. She braced both hands in front of her and dared to look down.
Trowa was hurtling downward at a terrifying speed. Until he twisted his body and angled his arms forward, grabbing the ledge of a window a few stories below. He pushed off of the window and flipped backward, and did the same thing with the next window above him, until he was turning back handsprings in mid-air, using each window ledge to propel him back up. Finally, his hands grasped the roof ledge, right in front of Relena. Trowa cartwheeled his way across the ledge before leaping up once again, turning an impressive backflip before he finally landed on his feet, a few feet above Relena's head, on something invisible.
His tightrope. Of course.
Trowa dismounted in another somersault before dropping down beside Relena. He ended his impromptu performance with a sweeping bow.
Relena spun away from him angrily.
"That wasn't funny," she spat, crossing her arms in front of her. "And at a time like this…"
"Sorry," Trowa said from behind her, although to her, he didn't sound one bit sorry. "I thought perhaps it would make you smile, or at the very least lighten the mood…"
"Trowa!" Relena whirled back around to face him. "What were you thinking?! Did you honestly bring me up here because you have something to tell me, or is all of this just some game to you?!"
"I'm sorry," he said again, taking a step toward her. "I really didn't mean-"
"You have one minute," Relena interrupted him, holding a hand out in front of her. "Just one." She cast her most serious expression on him, the one she saved for board rooms and battlefields. "Tell me whatever it is you were going to say. Then I have to go."
She watched as an unreadable expression crossed over Trowa's face, then vanished. He reminded her of Heero in that way; in many ways, actually. Both were masters of masking their feelings, but Trowa was even better at staying calm in all scenarios. Relena couldn't think of a time she'd seen him lose his cool; unlike Heero who, every now and then, allowed his temper to get the better of him. Relena didn't even mind the occasional outburst from Heero; at least it meant he was passionate about things. Trowa, however, was so calm, it was sometimes eerie.
And now, he stood impossibly still and silent, regarding Relena sadly, failing to speak.
"Time's almost up," she warned, tapping her foot for emphasis.
"It's difficult," he said quietly, his eyes glimmering.
"Try me," Relena retorted.
"I wish." Trowa's lips curved into a thin smile as Relena gasped.
His obvious flirtation immediately set her on edge. In an involuntary motion, Relena lifted a hand to strike Trowa across the face. She was even more shocked than he was when the slap landed with a sharp, stinging sound. He didn't even recoil at the blow, but grabbed Relena's hand in his.
She gasped and closed the distance between them, bringing her other hand up to his face, which was beet red from the hit.
"Why did you let me do that?!" she shrieked.
Trowa shrugged as Relena examined him, which she had to get on tiptoe to do. "Perhaps I thought I deserved it," he said evenly.
"Why?" Relena frowned up at him.
Trowa's visible eye flickered.
Relena realized too late that her hands were already holding the sides of his face, and it was far too easy for Trowa to bend his head and press his lips to hers.
Her eyes widened and she stumbled backward, sliding her hands down to Trowa's chest and giving him a mighty shove.
Trowa released her and straightened himself.
"Careful," he said, motioning to the drop behind him. "That could have been deadly."
Relena's temper flared inside her. "You're lucky I didn't push you harder," she spat. "Why did you do that?!" Her hands balled into fists at her sides. "What possessed you to even think that would be okay?!"
"The way you looked at me," Trowa said calmly. "For one thing."
"For one thing?!"
"Among other things," he added, stepping forward again, back into her space. "There have been plenty of instances, over the past few months, where something could have happened. I just… held back."
"Oh, did you?!" Relena cried, stepping back from him again. "How chivalrous of you…"
"Relena…" He stretched a hand out toward her. "You know what I mean…" He frowned. "I thought that's why you agreed to go somewhere and talk…"
Relena shook her head firmly. "Trowa, you're imagining things… I only wanted to talk because you said you wanted to clear the air; I thought I should hear you out. But-but this…" She swept her arms, motioning vaguely around them. "It's like you were jumping at the chance to do something, once we were alone!" Relena's face screwed up in anger. "How dare you…"
Trowa maintained his calm exterior, merely shaking his head to the side. "You misunderstand me, Relena. I may be a clown, but I'm no fool." He smiled sadly at her. "Maybe I was pretending, for just a moment, that you returned my feelings. I thought…" He trailed off and turned his head to the side, chuckling lightly. "No, I knew better. I knew once Heero returned, that would be that, and you'd forget all about whatever was between us…"
"Trowa," Relena said sternly, "there was nothing between us. We were friends; that's all."
"Don't do this," he murmured, reaching for her again. "It may be ill-fated, but the connection we share-"
"The connection?!" Relena cut him off, indignant. "Trowa, I'm getting married! To Heero! And I'm having his babies!" Her chest was beginning to hurt from the emotional effort it took to yell at him. "Why can't you see? There is no 'us.'"
Trowa nodded slowly. "Right. But there might have been. If Heero hadn't returned."
Relena shook her head in disbelief. "And you knew how unlikely it was. You said it yourself; he will always return to me. You know Heero." Relena sighed. "Trowa, I may have… relied on you, when I was lonely. I enjoyed our talks. And you were… pleasant to be around." She could see that his neutral facade had cracked, and her words were hurting him. He merely nodded again, his eyes downcast and hollow.
She bit her lower lip to keep from crying, and worked to control the shakiness in her voice. "But that's all it was, Trowa. I needed a friend, and you were there for me. I appreciate that, I really do." She laid a hand on his arm, as if the gesture could ease the blow. "But, believe me, it was never my intention to lead you on. And if I did, I'm truly sorry." Her voice broke, and she stepped away. "I love Heero, more than anything in this world."
"I know," Trowa said quietly, keeping his face turned to the side. "I just… I thought you might consider me as well. If you knew how I felt."
Relena began to shake her head, but Trowa continued. "I love you, Relena. I have… for some time."
She shook her head more wildly, blinking back tears. "No…"
"It's true." Slowly, he raised his eyes to look at her. "I feel just as strongly for you as Heero does. I wouldn't hesitate to give my life for you. And he knows that." Trowa's face darkened. "And that's why he chose me to look after you."
"No," Relena whispered in disbelief. "Heero wouldn't do something like that. Put us in that sort of position…"
Trowa shook his head and smiled sadly. "We talked about it once. Remember?"
Relena shook her head again, but then the conversation came rushing back to her.
He had it all planned.
Fear like a long, sharp icicle stabbed her heart.
What else did Heero have planned? How long was he going to be away?
"Trowa…" Her voice quivered as her throat went dry. "He… Heero's coming back. He is. Isn't he?"
Trowa took another step toward her, hand outstretched. "Relena…"
"Y-you're saying he wasn't planning to come back?" Relena whispered, her back to Trowa. "I don't believe you. There's no way he…" She blinked back another wave of tears. "He asked me to marry him…"
"After how long?" Trowa asked from behind her.
Relena didn't answer. It wasn't Trowa's business, and it had taken Heero a while, but still. Even if he hadn't asked her, yet, it wouldn't have changed the way Relena felt about him; that was all that mattered.
"Relena…" She froze when she felt Trowa's hand rest on her shoulder. "I wasn't going to tell you this, but I think you deserve to know…"
"Tell me what?" She whirled back around to face him, severing their contact. His face was tight.
"Heero…" he said slowly, "was in contact with Une the entire time he was gone."
Relena's heart began to race. "Wait… what?"
Trowa nodded once. "She kept a lot of the mission from us, until toward the end, when things began to unravel. The truth is, Heero was in over his head, but he was reluctant to accept any of our help." Trowa gave a dismissive shrug, and Relena knew what that was supposed to mean. Typical Heero.
"Anyway," Trowa continued, "I'm telling you this because I know you reached out to Une to find out Heero's whereabouts, and querying her didn't get you anywhere. Until last night, when you pretended to already know where he was, and tricked Une into confirming his location." Trowa's expression eased into a smile. "An impressive tactic, by the way-"
"Trowa," Relena warned, her voice a harsh whisper. "Why are you telling me this now?"
"Because, as I said, you deserve to know."
Relena went quiet for a moment, weighing his words. Of course, she should have known that Une knew where Heero was all along, but couldn't tell Relena. She could forgive Une for keeping that from her - she had forgiven Une of worse, after all - in the name of security. After all, with everything Heero had endured during his three-month captivity, relaying the wrong information to the wrong source could have cost him everything.
Including his life.
But what Trowa was implying...
"Are you suggesting Heero received Une's messages from me, and chose not to respond?"
Trowa nodded again, just as Relena shook her head vehemently.
"Why would I lie?"
"Because you want me to doubt Heero," Relena said shakily. "Well, it's not going to work. I trust him; I always have."
"Always?" Trowa arched a brow. "Is that why you broke up with him so many times?"
"That's none of your business!" she cried.
Trowa shrugged. "You can ask him yourself. All I know is that, when I first found him at the base this morning, he indicated that he was very much aware you had been trying to reach him for some time. And he was content to continue working, uninterrupted. He said you would understand." Trowa shook his head sadly. "I don't understand how-"
"No, you don't understand." Relena held up a hand to stop his words. "But I do." Her heart fluttered. "I understand him better than anyone."
Of course Heero would say those things; it was textbook Heero Yuy. Relena wasn't surprised in the least. In some ways, she knew Heero - her Heero - would never change.
But something had changed between them, in the past twenty-four hours. Relena had felt it the moment her eyes had locked with Heero's, once they'd finally found each other again. She had seen the blazing anger there - he was always angry, especially when she managed to work her way into dangerous situations, the type he worked so hard to shield her from. But there was something more there, too; that fierce protectiveness that burned within him. His eyes were fury and fire, and that formidable look of his only told Relena one thing: he would go the ends of the earth, claw his way through hell itself, to protect her, and nothing and no one would stand in his way.
Whether he'd gotten Une's messages, months ago, or not… It was irrelevant in that moment; everything that had come before it was.
Relena dabbed at the last of her tears and managed to give Trowa a small smile.
"I have to go." She only briefly registered his shellshocked expression before she turned her heel and ran back toward the exit door.
The doctor's voice sounded far away to Heero as the older man rattled off a list of possible issues. Heero forced himself to stay awake and focus.
"The chest x-ray was normal, however the MRI showed a large clot in the lungs. Meanwhile the blood work revealed elevated levels of BNP and troponin."
Heero was working to mentally translate the medical terms, but he was more tired than he'd realized.
"These are all indicative of a pulmonary embolism. I suggest we operate immediately."
Heero nodded weakly. "Yeah. Sure."
"My medical assistant will be in shortly to prep you for surgery, although we don't have long..."
Heero forced his eyes open, and saw that the doctor appeared to be rather nervous, although he was clearly trying to look otherwise.
"So… I'm going to have to sign a waiver, right?" Heero joked without a trace of humor. The doctor's face went white.
"Ah, I mean…" He paused to push his glasses up the bridge of his own. "That's just standard operating procedure. There's nothing to worry about it. We caught this relatively early on, but…"
Heero nodded. "I see. Just do me a favor and wait till my wife comes back before you wheel me out of here…"
The doctor frowned. "Where is she? Is she in the building?"
Heero nodded again. "Yeah. She was just here."
The other man glanced at his wristwatch. "I'm afraid we can't put this off." He grimaced before heading for the door. "The anesthesiologist is also on his way. And yes, he has his own waiver for you to sign…"
Heero rolled his eyes. "I get it; I've been out before."
"Right." The doctor nodded tersely before he all but bolted from the room. "See you in the OR, then…"
Heero had to wonder, as the man scampered away, if that was his own version of a joke.
He leaned back against his pillows and closed his eyes, trying to will the nausea, and the pain that kept squeezing his chest, away. An embolism was serious - deadly, even - but it could have been something worse. He wondered what might have caused it, apart from spending several weeks confined to a small room, unable to complete his usual exercises. Still, it wasn't as if he hadn't been able to move around at all. He wondered if that would have been enough to impair him.
He couldn't shake the idea that something had gone wrong with Zero, although he continued to second-guess himself. Now I sound paranoid…
He heard the door to his room open and looked up, expecting to see Relena. He frowned when he saw a middle-aged woman instead, and realized she must have been the doctor's assistant. She looked taken aback when she saw him, and Heero realized his scowl probably wasn't helping. He worked to relax his features as she proceeded to repeat much of what the doctor had already said.
Heero wasn't that worried about the surgery. In the scheme of things, well, he could be dead already. He knew this would soon be taken care of, and he could go back to normal. But for some reason, he was anxious to see Relena before they put him under; if nothing else, to reassure her that he was going to be fine.
He looked at the clock on the wall behind the medical assistant's head, and tried to remember when Relena had left for dinner, before he'd dozed off. He knew it had to have been an hour ago, at least. For a brief moment, his heart faltered.
Relena, where are you?
A/N: Happy Sunday Funday! I hope you and yours are enjoying a relaxing weekend :) I finished this chapter last night so I wanted to share immediately, rather than making you guys wait while I update my other fics (although I am working on those, too, no worries!). As always, I am merely following where the muse takes me, and I have a feeling this one is going to get wild... Thanks for all of the positive feedback so far!